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Wolves play a role in Okanogan County races

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By K.C. Mehaffey
The Wenatchee World

Wolves have been prowling around the ballot boxes in Okanogan County. Well, not literally. But the returning predators are no small issue in the Nov. 6 election for two seats on the Okanogan County Commission.

OKANOGAN — Wolves have been prowling around the ballot boxes in Okanogan County.

Well, not literally. But the returning predators are no small issue in the Nov. 6 election for two seats on the Okanogan County Commission.

Okanogan County is where the state first confirmed presence of a wolf pack in Washington state after a 70-year absence, and commissioners have been vocally opposed to its wolf recovery plan.

But after eight years in office, Andy Lampe lost re-election in the August primary after writing a letter supporting the appointment of a state Wildlife Commission member who works for Conservation Northwest — which supported the state’s wolf recovery plan.

And Ray Campbell — who’s trying to unseat eight-year Commissioner Don “Bud” Hover — has proclaimed his opposition to wolves in a BBC documentary.

“If they’re a threat to my cattle and my horses and my family, I’m going to start shooting them,” he told a BBC filmmaker last year.

Campbell says he stands by that statement. “I’m not a wolf hater,” he said in a recent interview. But under the state’s current recovery plan, “They’ll escalate so much, the only way to get rid of them is a mass aerial attack on them, and poison, and everything else,” he said.

Indeed, not one of the four candidates running for two positions on the commission says they’re happy about the return of the wolves.

Even the lone Democrat, Albert Roberts, says the county should be pushing to get wolves off the endangered species list.

“Personally, they’re sort of like the neighbor’s dogs. As long as they stay where they’re supposed to be, they’re not an issue. But if they come in and threaten my livestock, I’ll do what’s necessary,” he said.

He said both sides of the wolf debate need to bend a little on their positions. “For proponents, they’re going to have to put up with a little more when there is predation or suspected predation. Just pay it, and don’t ask so many questions,” he said. “They need to be able to work with the ranchers. It wasn’t their idea to have wolves brought in here.”

As for ranchers themselves, he said, “They should have a range rider out there, or do something that dissuades that interaction.” He contends he’d be a good candidate because he can sit down with the environmental groups to elicit change.

Roberts is running against Sheilah Kennedy, who warns that the issues that played out in Stevens County — where the state Department of Fish and Wildlife had to eliminate the Wedge Pack after they killed or injured 16 cows from one ranch — are headed this way.

“We’re just seeing a small example of what our future is,” she said, adding, “It’s going to be very ugly if we don’t have a way to protect our own livestock and our children.”

Kennedy said funds offered to ranchers who can prove a wolf took their livestock is not nearly enough to compensate for the decades of building up a herd. “The problem is, they build their livestock up, and the quality of their livestock, and the wolves can come in and destroy that.”

Kennedy and Roberts are running for the District 1 seat, currently held by Lampe, ousted by voters in August. The loss came after the Okanogan County Republicans called for his resignation last year for supporting Jay Kehne, who works for Conservation Northwest, and was being considered for appointment to the state’s Wildlife Commission. Lampe refused to step down, but he did rescind his support.

Lampe and Hover — who is still in the race for reelection to District 2 on the commission — were already vocal opponents of the state’s wolf plan, and the endangered listing.

As commissioners, they passed a resolution calling wolves “deleterious exotic wildlife” and asking the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to de-list them.

Hover said it’s difficult for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to properly manage wolves if they are listed as endangered.

He said both the cattle industry and the mule deer herds — which bring in droves of hunters each fall — will suffer serious losses until wolves are protected; he said he’s been working with state and federal agencies to get the wolves de-listed.

Hover said he believes the federal government will soon de-list wolves, so only the state listing will remain, and that’s where he’s been concentrating his efforts.

“We, as a county, have requested all of the science and all of the other information that our Department of Fish and Wildlife used to list them,” he said. He said he believes people can live with the wolves, as long as the state is free to manage them, and issue permits to kill problem wolves.

“We want to have some kind of balance,” he said.

Ray Campbell — Hover’s challenger — doesn’t think there can be balance when it comes to wolves.

“Society can’t live with wolves, like the idealists think we can,” he said, adding, “Packs of wolves have killed people in this country, years ago — in the 1800s.”

Campbell said that under the state’s recovery plan, there will be too many wolves to manage before they’re de-listed. “You can’t just open a season on them and narrow them down,” he said. “You take a look at Alaska, or Canada. They’re trying to get rid of them and they can’t even do it.”

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